Human Treasure

Tacita Dean (United Kingdom)

Galata Greek Primary School


“A human treasure is a designation. It is, even by the etymology of this description, an act of design: marking someone as worthy of respect and cherishing them by national consensus… Officially, ‘human treasure’ is an honour bestowed by the Japanese nation upon someone, inevitably of a great age, with ‘important intangible cultural properties.’ In practice, this tends to mean attributes found within male traditional Japanese arts… His name was Sensaku Shigeyama and he was an octogenarian performer of Kyogen, the traditional comedy of Japan, who lived in Kyoto. We went to see him perform in a school… Learned and perfected, his art has been handed down to him from generation to generation: skill being denoted by how well one sticks to the rules rather than by how well one breaks them.” –TD


Tacita Dean’s Human Treasure is a 16mm short color film with optical sound that documents the day of a Japanese “human treasure,” a term denoting someone from the traditional arts who has been recognized as having reached the highest of achievements in their craft. Fascinated by the definition, Dean set out to meet and film a “human treasure.” Seen performing every-day activities — taking breakfast, sipping tea, watching TV, weeping — the human behind the title is momentarily revealed.